April 6, 2014
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
We live in an individualistic world, a view of the world that places the single person as the pinnacle of what it means to make decisions, as the moral agent, as the unit of life. In the days of the Bible, the world was much more tribal, where a group of elders or a patriarch was the decision-maker, and the unit of life was the household, whether small and poor, or as expansive as David’s kingdom and the royal family.
We still see tribalism throughout much of the world, often portrayed as backwards or primitive or abusive and “over there.” But we even see our own tribalism: “How ’bout them UConn Huskies and UK Wildcats?” See?
We could also look at divides between genders, between races, between economic brackets. Back before car lights turned off on their own, when I was a broke student, why was I more likely to go turn off the lights on an old beat up Chevy that a brand new Cadillac? Was it concern for car alarms, or a little jealousy creeping in?
We are always caught between being an individual, a person who tries to stand on our own two feet, and being a person who is part of a family, a church, a political party, a group, or any number of tribes of one sort or another.
It is true that tribalism can be terribly malignant; but we ought not praise excesses of individualism. If families can be contentious and difficult, so can depression, isolation, only looking out for number one, how fewer and fewer people know their neighbors.
Our western Christian faith has traveled in parallel with the changes from a tribal view to an individualized view of resurrection, salvation, and redemption. These have become personal and private. You know, me and Jesus got a good thing going…
Ezekiel is about redemption and resurrection and salvation, but not just of individuals. It is about the dry and desiccated community of Israel, a people cut off from the Temple, from the Jordan, from the life that they had known in God.
Anthony Robinson writes:
The thing I like best about this wonderful story of the “dry bones,” is the role and attitude of the prophet. The prophet is cautious and dubious, but obedient. When asked by the Lord if these dry bones can live, Ezekiel punts, “Thou knowest, O Lord.” He’s not a rah-rah type, but he does do as told. He prophesies to the bones!
We know of places in our own lives that are live a valley of deep darkness, a place of dryness, a place where no life, no light, no hope can seem to enter. That valley of dry bones can be looking at the bills and the checks, knowing we have run out of money before we have run out of month. That dry, desolate place can be a relationship where we have not spoken the truth to each other for so long we just get used to lies or silence. Some have walked this valley in a doctor’s office, a consulting room after surgery, or when difficult decisions must be made on behalf of those we love.
Can these dry bones live? Is there hope? Do we dare dream of a tomorrow any different from yesterday and today?
The telling of Jesus raising Lazarus is a rich and complex story. On the one hand, it proclaims the power of God to raise Lazarus from the dead. Why else would Jesus wait so long so that everyone knows that Lazarus is dead and buried? Why not come quickly and heal him? Just to make sure we get the point Jesus tells it plainly before calling to Lazarus: “Okay, this is to show them who sent me!”
On the other hand it is such a human story: the people wonder why Jesus wasn’t here earlier; Martha knows that God will raise her brother on the last day, but not now; the disciples miss the point, first thinking Lazarus is asleep and then wanting to martyr themselves along with him; Jesus weeping.
There are two times that I can remember reading about Jesus weeping. One is among the grieving friends and family of Lazarus. The other is over all of Jerusalem. Both times he weeps in grief, both times in solidarity with a hurting and mourning people, once for an individual and once for all the people.
And the weeping Jesus calls out to Lazarus:
“Lazarus, come out.”
The dead man came out,
his hands and feet bound with bandages,
and his face wrapped with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This miracle shows us what Martha and the other disciples had not grasped: The power of God to make all things new is not an end-times, day of judgment, somewhere far off kind of thing. The kingdom of God is at hand. The power of resurrection, redemption, healing, salvation is here and now. Even here. Even now.
But is also not the end of the story. The old Lutheran lectionary carried through to verse 53 (yes, they read even more of it!), and we find that this resurrection leads to Jesus’ death.
We are not at Easter yet. Even through the power of God to make all things new is present and real and true even here, even now, even in you and in me, we do not yet see the fullness of God’s resurrection power.
That will come when the sin of the world is taken up onto the cross, and the body of Jesus is carried down and laid in a tomb, and after the Sabbath another stone is rolled away.
You see, God’s love is for you and for me, for your family and for mine, for your tribe and for mine.
But it is so much more. For God so loved…the world.
Thanks be to God.